FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - A veteran who lost everything in the Tunnel Fire that burned miles from Flagstaff, including his home, his service medals and more, was honored on June 7.
The community thanked him for his service with an official welcome home ceremony, which of course was highly emotional, not only for the community but for Lt. David Barthman.
While organizers say it took a tragedy to make the ceremony happen, at least now he knows how much his service truly means.
The crowd outside the American Legion Mark A. Moore Post 3 in Flagstaff gave Barthman a standing ovation for his official welcome home ceremony 50 years later.
Barthman served in the 82nd Airborne Paratrooper Army in 1969 and the 1st Signal Brigade in Vietnam.
"My father was a World War II veteran, and he would tell me World War II stories and how people would welcome their arms, and I thought, why didn't that happen to me? Better late than never," Barthman said. "This just made my day."
He lost everything after the Tunnel Fire ripped through his home in April. His home burnt down and he lost his medals – until today. At the ceremony, he was presented with his medals and his uniform, all made possible by the nonprofit Veterans Affinity.
"It is very emotional. I have tremendous gratitude for guys and gals who served before me. It really is an honor for me to be a part of this and set it up and to give them their recognition and accolades they deserve, so it is very personal," said Rick Kreiberg with Veterans Affinity.
The community has truly surrounded Barthman with love and support since his home burnt down. His life is back on track and he has a place to live.
As for Veterans Affinity, the nonprofit says these kinds of events can happen thanks to the community's donations.
The Tunnel Fire more than tripled in size within hours when it sparked as relentless winds pushed the flames through neighborhoods on the outskirts of Flagstaff, forcing out hundreds of residents and destroying at least 30 homes and other structures.
As of April 29, the fire has destroyed 19,075 acres with 95% containment. Fire officials say the acreage has been reduced due to a more accurate depiction of the fire's edge in certain areas.
The fire has since been put out.